What exactly are Morris tunes?

What exactly are Morris tunes?

I’ve seen the term used a lot, and I have no clue what exactly a Morris tune is (or rather, what defines a Morris tune). Would someone please enlighten me?

Re: What exactly are Morris tunes?

I don’t think you’ll find a definition that will allow you to decide what is and what isn’t a Morris tune, it’s a bit like asking for a definition of "Irish tune".

Morris tunes are tunes danced to by Morris dancers.

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Re: What exactly are Morris tunes?

Morris is an English dance tradition, although it has spread to other countries in recent years - including the USA. A group of morris dancers is known as a "side". Originally an all-male dance tradition, but nowadays you will find female and mixed Morris dance "sides".

There are three main regional forms of morris dancing:

- Cotswold Morris (from the English county of Gloucestershire)
- Border Morris (from the English/Welsh border, mostly in the English county of Shropshire)
- North-West or Clog Morris (from the English County of Lancashire).

The tunes used for these dances include the usual dance metre formats: 6/8, 9/8, 4/4 etc but they are much slower and less "notey" so therefore much easier to play than Irish traditional tunes.

There is however one complication: the tunes aren’t played in the usual AABB format but to a complex formula of "As" and "Bs" necessary to fit a specific dance. For this reason (no matter how good a musician you are) it’s impossible to play for a Morris dance unless you are fully aquainted with the dance concerned.

Morris tunes are also occasionally played in traditional music pub sessions in England and in those circumstances they are usually played AABB.

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As a Gloucestershire man, honesty forces me to admit that a substantial part of the Cotswold morris tradition comes from Oxfordshire.
FWIW, tiddly pom.

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Tunes that accompany Morris dances - quite often chosen to blend in with the sounds of sticks clacking, bells rattling and handkerchiefs flapping in the wind :)

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Fine introduction by Mix O’Lydian above. Being a pedant, I would add that Cotswold Morris traditionally extended to Oxfordshire as well as Gloucester, with outliers in other counties such as Northamptonshire. William Kimber, a Morris musician who played Anglo concertina (and really *was* good, going on recordings I heard) was heard by Cecil Sharp in 1899 playing for Headington Quarry morris side not far from Oxford City. Sharp duly wrote down Kimber’s tunes.

Sharp and others investigated the traditional sides and their music just in time: nearly all the traditions were broken by the loss of their men and maybe other factors to do with WW1, although revivals of some of these began not long afterwards.

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@TomB-R@Nicholas

Indeed, the Cotswold Morris is also a very strong tradition in Oxfordshire. Aplogies for my ommission.

@Azle Concertina

And (closely associated with the Morris), we have:

The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance (County of Staffordshire)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPJW_FltI74


The Bacup Coconut Dancers (County of Lancashire)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KHNQQ56FA8


And loosely associated with the Morris, we also have:

Longsword Dancers (County of Yorkshire)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aBxzS0nhzcQ


Rapper Sword Dancers (Counties of Northumberland and Durham)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zVGRWCoA_4


The music for rapper sword differs from the rest in that it uses double jigs (usually Irish) played AABB at a very fast tempo.

Who was it who said: "Only in America"?

To this I will add: "Mostly in England!" ;-)

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A big waste of time

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Morris gives folk music a bad name

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TheHappyCamper: "A big waste of time" … and "Morris gives folk music a bad name".

Maybe. But more complex than you (and many people) might imagine.

For example, If you were playing for the Cotswold Morris dance "Queen’s Delight" (from the village of Bucknell), you would need to get grips with the "music formula" required:

A(AB3)4(AC3)2

… and take a look at the rapper sword clip that I posted above. Straightforward AABB, but it’s not that easy to play jigs at that speed …

Re: What exactly are Morris tunes?

"There are three main regional forms of morris dancing:

- Cotswold Morris (from the English county of Gloucestershire)
- Border Morris (from the English/Welsh border, mostly in the English county of Shropshire)
- North-West or Clog Morris (from the English County of Lancashire)."

What about Molly dancing from E. Anglia? Or is that regarded as a different entity?

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In mix’s clips, why are the North West dancers dancing to Blaydon Races? I was under the impression that each tradition had it’s own repertoire of tunes that they pretty much stuck to. Am I wrong, or does the tune have some connection to the North West, perhaps before it became the Geordie anthem?

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TheHappyCamper: "A big waste of time" … and "Morris gives folk music a bad name".
Judging by those videos, the participants are obviously Happier and Camper than you. :)

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@skreech:

Cultural communication was instant and wide in the sophisticated industrialising North, as The Rocket and Puffing Billy ran Newcastle’s latest show songs to the nethermost Lancashire mill village.

Meanwhile, Southern English rustics never left their parish and lived in the smocks they were born in. Occasionally some would set off on a crusade, but they invariably settled for burning down the nearest barn.

This explains why Cotswold Morris music tends to stick close to the repertoires recorded a century ago in the towns and villages there, while North-West music is - I believe - more eclectic.

You do not have to believe any of this, of course!;-0

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I meant :-)

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CreadurMawnOrganig: "What about Molly dancing from E. Anglia? Or is that regarded as a different entity?"

Again, apologies for the omission - and here they are!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxsVMr06k_E


Q. Anyone know the title of the tune that they are dancing to?

Re: What exactly are Morris tunes?

"A big waste of time" … and "Morris gives folk music a bad name".

It’s very cheap to laugh at Morris dancers. But you’d soon be sorry if they stopped doing it, and the crops failed, and the sheep didn’t lamb, and the cows didn’t calf.

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"E Angular" - a foreign country according to the late Jade G, bless her.

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Morris dancers are cleverly constructed. We once went to a Morris Dance Workshop at the Durham Folk Festival & it is surprisingly difficult to hop from side to side while twirling handkerchiefs…

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One of the biggest misconceptions about Morris music is that the tunes are in any way homogeneous, or even from a common origin. Cotswold (which I dance) has traditional tunes used for specific dances from Ireland, Scotland and England. There are also many former music hall songs which have been twisted in to use. Basically the musicians, when faced with a new dance, just played whatever they could that fit and if people recognised it then so much the better. Not so dissimilar from now. I have heard that the only morris tune not found outside of morris is Trunkles, but I don’t know whether that is true.

What makes Morris music Morris is the fact that it is played for Morris Dancing. And Cotswold at least is characteristic enough that tunes are played utterly different from how they are played elsewhere. In other words, Cotswold tunes are distinct from the same notes played elsewhere, because the style is so totally different.

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There are three or four of us "Morris Musicians" who regularly attend our local session and, for various reasons, we tend to sit together. When we play the tunes there that we play for dance-outs, we play them in a completely different way. As somebody mentioned above, we play AABB, rather than the AABBB which many Cotswold dances demand or AB, which traditional Longsword teams prefer. As we are not tied to dancers human limitations, we also tend to play a little faster, though not at the great speeds at which many of the "Young Turks" play Irish jigs (don’t they learn anything else at that age?). We also tend to omit the "slows" which many Cotswold dances use.
Yorkshire Longsword is a different kettle of fish entirely. As long as we play at a regular tempo, roughly that of a fast walking pace, the dancers are very flexible with us, bless them.
By the way, it’s Goathland Day of Dance this coming Saturday and they are promising to put up six teams, including their first women’s team. Dancing starts around 10.00 and continues until dark. You know the village - it was masked as "Aidensfield" in the "Heartbeat" series on UK TV a few years ago. Come along and see a real traditional team in action. As it’s traditional, it will go on whatever the weather. As long as the dancers can stand and the musicians’ instruments are still playable, it will go on.
Bless you all.

Chris.

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With all the slagging that has been heaped on Morris dancers over the years, I am surprised this thread has remained so civilized! ;-)

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Perhaps not many Morris dancers know that they have cousins in NE Portugal:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gz_AnwgAE-M


It is perhaps no coincidence that there local traditional festivals held in the Tras-os-Montes region, which feature dancing such as that in the above video, that go by the name of ‘Mourisca’.

…and it’s heartening to know that Portuguese gaiteiros have just as much trouble keeping their pipes in tune as uilleann pipers.

Re: What exactly are Morris tunes?

"It’s very cheap to laugh at Morris dancers. But you’d soon be sorry if they stopped doing it, and the crops failed, and the sheep didn’t lamb, and the cows didn’t calf."

What Matt Seattle said.

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I have often wondered what would happen some of these detractors were to see Morris for the first time but in France or Spain or some other country. I suspect it might be seen as a vibrant, colourful spectacle.
That said, in my opinion most of the music should be confined to the dance and stay well clear of a pub session.
Horses for courses.

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Re: What exactly are Morris tunes?

Horses for courses? And there was me a-thinking that horses were for beefburgers … ;-)

Re: What exactly are Morris tunes?

Morris Dancing is a form of traditional dance in England. There are many fine tunes. A collection was made by Cecil Sharpe in the early 1900’s which saved a great many tunes from being lost forever.

Re: What exactly are Morris tunes?

"That said, in my opinion most of the music should be confined to the dance and stay well clear of a pub session.
Horses for courses."

Horses for courses, indeed. With the right people, I find them a joy to play. Lots of space to play around with. Since I’ve never actually played the tunes for Morris dancing, I try to play them in such a way that *accommodates* their lumpiness rather than *emphasises* it above all else. There are certainly some Morris tunes that do nothing for me, but there are some that go to interesting places - especially some of the slow jig-time tunes with unequal parts (much like Irish 6/8 set-dances). Furthermore, it is a nonsense to dismiss all Morris tunes since, as ukebert says above, most of them originate outside the Morris tradition, and some are Irish or Scottish in origin.

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"Horses for courses? And there was me a-thinking that horses were for beefburgers "

Perhaps the saying means "horses for main courses".

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In reply to Len, many years ago I found myself out on tour with the Black Jokers morris side from Boston, Mass. I was asked by one of the bystanders what was going on, so I explained it was a traditional English custom. He looked for a moment and then said, "Nah, the English don’t dress like that!".

I pointed out that I was English, and dressed like that. I don’t think he believed me.

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Those complex phrase structures are very similar to the ones used in Highland Piobaireachd.

Re: What exactly are Morris tunes?

To the uneducated eye the Wexford Mummers do a similar dance to the Morris Dancers, but they usually dress up as historical figures from Irish History and the dance tells a story.
http://youtu.be/1v4NkxpLgKk

Re: What exactly are Morris tunes?

Just have to add, speaking of Morris - love The Witchmen!!

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As a morris dancer with an educated eye I would say the dance the Wexford Mummers do IS a morris dance. Not an English one but definitely out of the same litter as are the Portugese and Spanish dances mentioned previously. Even the term ‘mummer’ is one used in England in association with morris or sword dancing ( or without!) although it usually refers to a performer in a ‘folk-play’. Dance forms, like musical forms, have no geographical boundaries.

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I would agree. Question is, whether it is convergent evolution, Anglo-Irish influence or some common root between that and English Morris. I’d be willing to bet a substantial amount on one of the first two…

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One grows up (or used to) being told that Portugal is ‘Britain’s oldest ally’. I don’t know when this alliance was forged (I assume it to be a historical fact), but it may have facilitated the travel of Portuguese dances etc. to Britain: just a thought.

All I know about Portuguese effects on British culture is that c18 British gentry began putting back almost inconceivably vast amounts of port. I remember someone in a Jane Austen novel being described by another character as someone who ‘drinks his four pints’ - meaning, I gather, port. Better him than me.

Re: What exactly are Morris tunes?

And if the dances were introduced from Portugal unofficially, by sailors or others, into Britain around the c18, they could have as easily come from there into Ireland and been taken up there, in whatever form.

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"One grows up (or used to) being told that Portugal is ‘Britain’s oldest ally’".

The alliance between Portugal and "England" is the oldest one that is still extant.
That’s probably a little different.

http://www.angloportuguesesociety.org.uk/alliance-history

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Nicholas, do you think it may have been 4 pints of madeira?

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Re: What exactly are Morris tunes?

Could have been - I hadn’t thought of that! Still Portuguese, anyway - that is, if Portugal had Madeira then. I should imagine it did.

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@Weejie:

Point taken - I hadn’t realised the Anglo-Portuguese alliance was quite as old as that. Hope to get round to reading the extensive link details.

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"Have some Madeira my dear…"
Certainly the port bought for Christmas is only just finished.
Meanwhile, thanks to everyone for the many useful links to live Morris.
I say, to all gainsayers, remember that you may play in a session, but Morris Dance musicians play for the Morris; and how big a crowd do you get around a Morris side and their musicians ? More than at your session, I’ll wager !

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The Morris dance was supposedly introduced into England at a banquet given by John of Gaunt for Portugese dignitaries some time in the 14th century (I think). This is the earliest record of morris in England.

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Here http://www.folkplay.info/Texts/81it01kp.htm is a collected text of the Wexford mummers play. It is so close to many English texts that I feel sure it was imported from England and adapted to local conditions (by returning navigators perhaps?). Note that the dance has been reduced to ‘a sort of reel’. There’s a page on Wikipedia here on mumming http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mummers_Play and a page on Morris dancing here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morris_dance#Mumming.

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We do "Staines Morris" at our session on occasion, and base it upon the version on the "Morris On" record of Richard Thompson in the early 70s (beautifully sung by Shirley Collins), original recording below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbV3TWXXgfQ

Re: What exactly are Morris tunes?

Where was "our oldest ally" in 1939? (or where were the Yanks for that matter?)
Morris discussion follows …

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As an Englisman, I’m a bit too ashamed of our own history to want to judge everybody elses. But surely there’s no need for this crap here Ebor.

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All my life I have been told "Portugal is our oldest ally", but nobody can tell me when they last fought in any war on our side.
Sorry - the "Yanks" was a bit of a cheap jibe, but there are still a lot of UK citizens who resent the fact that the US did not join the fight against Hitler until halfway through the war.
Back to the thread - I have serious doubts about the historicity of the stories concerning the "import" of our Morris traditions. I believe that the name "Morris" does indeed stem from "Moorish", but not because the dances originated from Iberia, rather because the dancers blacked their faces as a form of disguise, much as dancers in West African countries "white up" for the same reason.

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Ebor, I think (just from vague memory)that the reference to Portugal being England’s oldest ally relates back to the Napoleonic wars, at a time when Portugal was the only European country to defy the French Navel blockade on Britain (and let’s not forget that Some of Napoleon’s best generals were Irishmen, as Indeed was The Duke of Wellington himself, so things in war are never that clearly nationalistic). On the Morris dancers, I think you may be right about the blackened faces. I (again but vaugely), remember reading that sailors also blackened up whenever they crossed the equator and danced their hornpipes.

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Happy Camper, I would steer you in the direction of Nick Barber’s English Rebellion CD "Four Across" as an excellent example of English trad’. Technically brilliant and swings lke the clappers.
Although I play mainly ITM, I am fortunate in my neck of the woods (Westmoreland) to be in the company of ETM musicians who play interesting and complex tunes that give ITM/Morris a good name.

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they’ve got them down in padstow too!

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That’s a great example of why "tradition" should never ever be used as an excuse to do anything

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Re: What exactly are Morris tunes?

Oss! Oss!